People make mistakes -- after all, we're human. But when companies make them, people take even more notice because those errors usually offend their values or directly involve their money. No matter whether it's a misunderstanding, a faux pas, or a blatant disregard for the public's perception, it's tough to apologize for a major mistake and expect people to simply forget about it. That didn't stop these five brands from trying, though.
People disgusted by pink slime
Whether for good or for bad, finely textured beef -- known as "pink slime" -- was used as an additive in most of the ground beef in the U.S. over the last 10 years. Although reputable newspapers like The New York Times and The Washington Post wrote about the possible dangers associated with the additive, the food industry continued to use it. That was until March 2012, when ABC News reported that "pink slime" was treated with ammonia.
As you might expect, the report and an unappetizing picture of the product went viral online, resulting in a PR firestorm for the company that manufactured it and the food industry. As expected, consumers became more concerned with what they were eating and food companies vowed to discontinue the use of "pink slime" in their meat. Beef Products Inc., a manufacturer of the products, responded by creating a Beef is Beef website.
(Image source: Beef is Beef)
Although Beef Products Inc. tried to offer the public the truth behind its product, people dismissed it. As a result, the company shut down three of its four manufacturing plants.
People angered by Susan G. Komen for the Cure
In 2012, Susan G. Komen for the Cure announced it'd stop contributing funding to Planned Parenthood for breast examinations and other services important to the public. Unexpectedly, the country's largest breast cancer foundation faced angry critics who posted messages on Komen's Facebook and Twitter pages vowing to drop their support. Instead of responding to a dire situation right away, the foundation waited a whole 24 hours.
Not only did the act of cutting funding ruffle the wrong feathers, but the foundation's late response didn't do anything to help the situation. To make matters worse, Karen Handel, the foundation's vice president, decided to defund Planned Parenthood because of her views opposing views on abortion. Although she apologized, Handel resigned days later. Additionally, other executives resigned, local groups canceled events, and fundraising dropped.
Considering this story involves an otherwise helpful foundation, it's sad that an executive move based on personal opinions affected the lives of so many battling a disease it was meant to support.
People threatened by Facebook
With more than 1.19 billion active users, anything that happens on -- or with -- Facebook impacts a lot of people who have a vested interest in the social media platform. When Khalil Shreateh exposed a major vulnerability with Facebook's security in August of 2013, users expressed immediate concern. The vulnerability allowed people to post on timelines they weren't connected to. In response, Facebook offered a bounty to people who discovered these vulnerabilities in their securities and told Shreateh that it wasn't a bug (an apparent attempted cover-up).
Although people were initially threatened by Facebook's security flaw, the problem was fixed and the social media platform even donated $13,000 to Shreateh for his diligence in helping solve the issue. Apology accepted.
People disappointed by Lance Armstrong
During his run of winning a record seven consecutive Tour de France titles, Lance Armstrong was on top of the world and had a brand following like no other athlete. People loved Armstrong because of the fight he fought and won against cancer and all the attention he brought to the deadly disease. Despite allegations that he took performance enhancing drugs on his path to victory, Armstrong maintained he was clean and never doped.
Armstrong denied interviews requests (one of them being from "60 Minutes"), though, which encouraged people to start believing in the rumors. Unfortunately for the cancer survivor, investigations by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency proved too much to handle. After the USADA released a 200-page report detailing the accounts of doping, Armstrong stepped down and said he wouldn't fight the charges anymore (even though he maintained his innocence).
The USADA ended up stripping the cyclist of all his Tour da France titles and imposed other penalties. Although he finally apologized on Oprah, Armstrong's approach to the accusations resulted in public disappointment.
People disgruntled by AT&T
Some things should be left alone, even if a company thinks it can capitalize from using them. Apparently, AT&T didn't get the memo, deciding to Tweet a 9/11 ad that received immediate criticisms from people on Facebook, Twitter, and every social media platform on the internet. People took offense to the ad, calling it inappropriate and a tacky product placement. Although AT&T took down the ad from its Twitter within the hour, the damage was done.
The ad resulted in more than 400 shares on Facebook and 300 retweets on Twitter before it was taken down, with people passing along the screenshot to others who didn't initially notice the ad. Ad news sites, internet blogs, and other major media outlets, including The Washington Post, ABC News, Business Insider, Gawker, and Buzzfeed, picked up the story and ran with it. By the time a few hours passed, the entire world was talking about the distasteful ad.
A day later, on September 12, 2013, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson formally apologized on the company's public relations blog. He acknowledged and accepted the mistake, vowing to not commercialize the events of 9/11.
"I want to personally express to our customers, employees, and all those impacted by the events of 9/11 my heartfelt apologies. I consider that date a solemn occasion each year, a time when I reach out to those I was with on that awful day, share a moment of reflection for the lives lost and express my love of country. It is a day that should never be forgotten and never, ever commercialized. I commit AT&T to this standard as we move forward."
In a world of social media, it's tough to simply brush a public relations mistake under the rug and hope that no one notices. The best things that companies can do is own up to them, like AT&T did, and sincerely apologize. In the examples of Beef Products Inc., Susan G. Komen for the Cure, and Lance Armstrong, bobbing and weaving around the issues and denying the mistakes resulted in a loss of public confidence and poor public perception.
What other brands (or people associated with them) have you had contact with that made a mistake and had to apologize? Did the apology result in a change of heart from the public? How did it change your perception? Leave a comment below and let us know!
Morgan Sims is a writer.
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